Palabrería Is Reframing Public Relations in Puerto Rico

Victoria E. Gillison

Communicators Prioritize Community Development

Palabrería partners with other public relations leaders in Puerto Rico.

By Marisa Franco and Victoria Gillison

This article is one in a series about business leaders in the Level program, now in its third year. Through the Level program, B Lab U.S. & Canada aims to support and partner with business leaders who identify as women of color to amplify their economic reach and community impact.

Palabrería is not a standard communications consulting firm. Founded by Dayani Centeno-Torres, the company that started as a copywriting service has evolved to be much more. Centeno-Torres and her business partner, Palabrería Vice President Lisa Zayas, now focus on helping community-based and social justice organizations elevate their communications strategies to increase their impact.

They offer this focus because “it was evident to us that the organizations that are doing much-needed work were lacking the communications strategies and narratives to share their stories,” Centeno-Torres says. “We made it our mission to provide these groups and organizations with the best tools and strategies available, adapted to their budgets.”

Much of Palabrería’s work is Puerto Rico-based. As proud Puerto Ricans, Centeno-Torres and Zayas are committed to developing their communities. “We are very invested in the success of these organizations and their businesses, as their success implies that we as a community also grow, and as a culture we also grow,” Centeno-Torres says. “We’ve been doing work on and off in Florida as well, but we are always very emotionally connected to what happens in Puerto Rico.”

Connecting Deeply with Clients

Centeno-Torres and Zayas created a mission statement aimed at fostering relationships of value. “That means we want clients, allies, and collaborators to feel that we bring something of value other than just the business part,” Centeno-Torres says. “We really want to understand what your issues are. We want to understand the topics that we are putting out there and why those are important for society.”

The approach has been successful. Centeno-Torres and Zayas remark on how much they learn from their clients while elevating their clients’ stories. One of the campaigns they worked on was with Intercambios Puerto Rico and the Proyecto Políticas de Drogas ConCiencia. This project works with individuals who are drug users and seeks to expand the drug policy conversation. The partnership revealed new information about that community and its challenges. “We learned so much about the discrimination that [the people] suffer from the medical establishment. It was a profound learning experience for us,” Centeno-Torres says. “As we learned, we were able to help them pinpoint what parts of the messages were not clear enough and get them stories in mainstream newspapers and outlets. We grew in both directions.”

Dayani Centeno-Torres leads a social media workshop for the Bravo Family Foundation, a Puerto Rico nonprofit with a mission to foster principles of social justice.

Becoming a B Corp Business

Although their business is firmly rooted in investing in their community and partnering with local organizations. Centeno-Torres and Zayas initially felt that B Corp Certification was not possible for them. “We considered the B Corp Certification as out of our reach — we are a very small firm and thought it was something for bigger organizations.” But participating in the Level program has changed that.

By going through the program, Palabrería is in the process of gaining B Corp Certification — something the leaders say was important to them to ensure they were “aligning the inside with the outside.” Zayas notes that “very progressive organizations are so busy attending to others that sometimes people inside don’t see that they’re not getting the same thing.”

Centeno-Torres and Zayas also wanted to join the B Corp community to enhance their business acumen. “We’re very creative people,” Centeno-Torress says. “We like doing the job out there, but we were not paying attention to the business side and that’s really important.” They agree that Level has been instrumental in setting up systems and structures. While they have not yet finished the B Impact Assessment, it has been eye-opening to learn about several things they were doing but not documenting.

Teaching Others, Not Just Doing

True to their wishes to teach their work rather than just do it, when asked how people can best support Palabrería, Centeno-Torres and Zayas said they would like tools to help them teach their narrative work in Spanish so that clients can develop the skill. They note that there are a lot of tools, websites, and online courses in English but not in Spanish.

As for where Centeno-Torres and Zayas see Palabrería going in the future, they talk about wanting to teach others to communicate the way they do. “[An] organization can ask us to develop messaging and narrative for a specific issue, and we can do that,” Centeno-Torres says. “But if we can teach them what the key parts of develop[ing] narratives are, we can get farther and we don’t have to do it. It’s sharing that knowledge with other people.”

But for now, the two hope that people can see their work and understand that public relations is more than having stories published and producing events. Rather, in Centeno-Torres’ words, it’s “key to developing new ways of connecting.”

B The Change gathers and shares the voices from within the movement of people using business as a force for good and the community of Certified B Corporations. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the nonprofit B Lab.

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